Orthodox Jews

When covering Jewish views on abortion, don't forget the Orthodox, U.S. Judaism's fastest growing branch

When covering Jewish views on abortion, don't forget the Orthodox, U.S. Judaism's fastest growing branch

When USA Today ran a piece last week, suggesting that Christians have misappropriated the Old Testament — the Hebrew Bible — for their views on abortion, I took notice.

What I found was an article that quoted the most liberal Jewish voices on these biblical issues while ignoring everyone else.

There is a range of rabbinical opinion on this issue, but you wouldn’t know it from this piece. That’s bad journalism.

The lead sentence begins with the assertion that the anti-abortion views of Christians are connected to their faith. Then:

This is a familiar argument for the Republican Party when it comes to abortion access. In January, Kirk Cox, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, cited biblical scripture when he came out against a proposed bill that would lift late-term abortion restrictions.

"You knit me together in my mother’s womb,” he said, quoting Psalm 139. “You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born.”

But for many leaders in the Jewish faith, such interpretations are problematic and even insulting.

“It makes me apoplectic,” says Danya Ruttenberg, a Chicago-based rabbi who has written about Jews' interpretation of abortion. “Most of the proof texts that they’re bringing in for this are ridiculous. They’re using my sacred text to justify taking away my rights in a way that is just so calculated and craven.”

Like, how is this view of Psalm 139 “ridiculous”? It clearly states that the unborn child is a person knit together by God.

Also, if “many” Jewish leaders are offended by this kind of interpretation of a Psalm, which is true, the implication is that there are other points of view inside Judaism. Correct?

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This is a viral news story, obviously: What religion groups oppose vaccinations and why?

This is a viral news story, obviously: What religion groups oppose vaccinations and why?


In light of the recent measles outbreak spreading from certain enclaves of U.S. Orthodox Jews, does their religion, or any other, oppose vaccination?


The current epidemic of highly contagious measles is America’s worst since 2000 when the federal Centers for Disease Control proclaimed the disease eradicated. At this writing there are 704 known cases of the disease, three-fourths of them in New York State, but no deaths yet. The epidemic apparently originated with travelers returning from Israel and then spread out from close-knit neighborhoods of strict Orthodox Jews (often labeled “ultra-Orthodox”) in New York City’s Brooklyn borough and suburban Rockland County, where some residents have not been vaccinated.

New York City has undertaken unusually sharp measures, leveling fines for those lacking vaccination and shutting down some Jewish schools. Significantly, vaccination is being urged by such “Torah true” Jewish organizations as Agudath Israel, United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, the Orthodox Jewish Nurses Association, the Yiddish-language newspaper Der Yid and by rabbinic authorities in Israel.

Medical science is all but universal in refuting claims that have been made about some unexplained link between the increase in autism and the customary MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) or other inoculations of children. Though individual rabbis may hold anti-vaxx ideas, avoidance is not a matter of religious edicts but a secular counterculture, including a since-discredited medical journal article, Internet propaganda and publications from groups like Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health (PEACH) and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense, certain entertainment celebrities, and an offhand remark by candidate Donald Trump.

The journal Vaccine observed in 2013 that outbreaks within religious groups result from “a social network of people organized around a faith community, rather than theologically based objections.”

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The Independent somehow manages to quote zero Jews in news about Jewish school

 The Independent somehow manages to quote zero Jews in news about Jewish school

How many Jews does it take to write a newspaper story about same-sex education in private schools?

When the article is about an Orthodox Jewish school, it would be nice to have at least one.

It would be especially appropriate to quote an Orthodox Jewish scholar familiar with British laws affecting religious liberty.

The Independent ran an article on a government report that found an Orthodox Jewish girls school did not meet its standards in providing instruction to its pre-teen students on LGBT issues. The article entitled “Private Jewish school fails third Ofsted inspection for not teaching LGBT issues” is a fiasco, in terms of journalistic integrity.

It talks about and around the subject of the story, giving voice to critics, but does not speak with the subjects -- not one person who could offer an explanation why a Jewish Orthodox school might not be all that keen to conform to the cultural standards of The Independent and its left-wing readers.

The lede sets the tone for the story -- by being shown false by the second sentence of the story and setting forth The Independent’s biases.

A private, faith-based school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

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Getting upset while doing errands and listening to NPR stories about Israel

Getting upset while doing errands and listening to NPR stories about Israel

National Public Radio floats in and out of my journalistic consciousness, but not as much as in the past. Since I (thankfully) no longer commute for work, I now spend little time in my car stuck in rush hour traffic, the only time I listened to NPR with any real consistency.

I appreciate NPR's attempts to deliver a quality product.  And while it often succeeds, I do not think everything it does is top-notch. Like any news operation, at times it messes up. Then there's the brevity of the broadcast news format; outside of special features, it leaves little time for context and nuance.

Clearly, I'm a print guy. Though I did a short stint back in 1970 writing rip-and-read, top-of-the-hour, news roundups for United Press International radio clients when I worked in the agency's San Francisco bureau.

One subject about which I think NPR could do better is its coverage of Israel and Israeli Jewish society. I'm not alone on this. Right-of-center pro-Israel groups have long claimed that NPR is biased in favor of the Palestinian side, and goes out of its way to make Israel look bad.

Click here for an example of that criticism. To read an NPR ombudsman's response to the bias claims, click here.

My take is that the right-wing media watchdogs -- whose complaints help swell my email inbox -- too often find bias where I find only journalistic tripwires, such as quoting the same available officials over and over, or favoring English speakers over others simply because the NPR audience is English speaking.

However, two recent NPR stories I heard on separate days while in my car doing local errands did get under my skin more than usual.

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I confess: I brought a basket of stereotypes with me to the religion beat. And you?

I confess: I brought a basket of stereotypes with me to the religion beat. And you?

I knew very little about the world of religion when I became the full-time religion-beat reporter at the Los Angeles Daily News back in 1985. I knew next to nothing about how religious organizations functioned and not much more about the myriad ways that religious beliefs play out in people's lives.

That included Judaism, the faith into which I was born but to which I was barely culturally connected at the time. I also possessed what I soon realized was a superficial understanding of the Eastern meditative traditions to which I had become attracted.

But Pope John Paul II was scheduled to visit LA in 1987 and I'd had enough of seeing bad movies at odd hours in small screening rooms and talking to self-important studio public relations hacks on the Hollywood film and TV beat. My way forward came when I realized that the paper would need someone to lead what would surely be saturation papal visit coverage, and that that someone (meaning me) would need a long lead time to get prepared.

My one great advantage was that my editors knew even less than I did about covering religion. That, and I volunteered for the beat before anyone else. And so began my on-the-job training.

I made many rookie mistakes, including mistaking titles for actual names (don't ask). Despite that, I quickly realized that I needed to rid myself of my stereotypical thinking about religion and religious believers.

An early lesson came at the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. It was there that I came to understand that not all Southern Baptists -- and by extension, not all evangelicals -- were alike in their theology and practice.

It was also in Dallas that I realized just how politically brutal religious organizations can behave.

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